It’s been three and a half years since Thao and the Get Down Stay Down released an album, and in the mean time Thao has begun to integrate into the public consciousness. In 2011 she collaborated with Mirah and released a self titled album, and then spent much of 2012 touring with the Radiolab show In the Dark. It’s not like there’s been any real shortage of Thao material in the those years, still, I’ve been eagerly anticipating We the Common.
Since joining up with and becoming Thao and T Get Down Stay Down in 2008, the band has released two albums, We Brave Beestings and All, and Know Better Learn Faster. Though We Brave Beestings… evoked a more americana feel with a little country twang and banjo, it was a virtual companion to Know Better, which erred on the side of indie pop. Both albums featured a pleasant mixture of acoustic and electric poppy upbeat guitars, staccato rhythms, and Thao Nguyen’s trademark darkly contrasting vocals.
There was all the reason in the world to believe that their next album, We the Common would feature more of the same. Whether it was a natural progression for the band or perhaps the influence of Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs who produced Thao’s collaboration with Mirah in 2011, or the direction of Common producer John Congleton, I’m not really sure. But after a couple go rounds of We the Common, I’m convinced that something helped shift the sound that I so strongly associated with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.
Thirty seconds into the albums first and title track, you know that you are in for something different, synthesized strings break the banjo and Thao’s signature vocals, followed by simple heavy drum beats. Where Know Better Learn Faster had been a traditional indie rock album, We the Common is full of surprises, the variety of instruments here dwarfs what we’ve previously heard. Synthesizer, xylophone, and horns are among the new additions on this album, as is the return of banjo, which was mostly missing from Know Better.
We The Common takes a heavier approach with steady thudding drums and crunchy bass. In fact it’s the guitar that’s the victim in this changing landscape, on all but two tracks Kindness Be Conceived, and City the guitar fades into the background and accents the bass, horns, and drums. I’ve always appreciated Thao’s beat centric danceable songs, Common is full of their most danceable music but also some of their darkest.
It’s that dichotomy that has always drawn me to Thao’s song writing, even some of her most upbeat songs have had darker narratives. The chorus of We the Common “All they wanted was a villain, a villain, and all they had was me… so than they just took me” is utter brilliance. In fact We The Common is like a song writing clinic, and that’s the least surprising aspect of the album.
Prior to this album’s release I couldn’t have told you that this is what I thought a natural progression for the band would be, I don’t think I could have said that this is where I wanted them to go. Now that I’ve heard it, I can say that this album is exactly what I wanted to hear from Thao. This album is full of delightful surprises and every song is an unexpected gem.
If in the past you’ve been reluctant to really get into Thao’s bubbly indie pop rock, I sincerely implore you to give We the Common a chance, it’s similar enough to keep the essence the same, but different enough to stay completely fresh.
The album doesn’t come out until tomorrow, but you can already download it in itunes and amazon, as well as stream it in Spotify.